Sinologists, Writing Chinese Stories in Another Language (Reporters' Notes)

[Source]    People's Daily [Time]    2017-06-01 08:59:21 

Zhang Gaoli (second from right), Editor-in-Chief of China Translation & Publishing House (CTPH), negotiating cooperation with a Romanian publishing house; Photo by CTPH

There is a group of foreigners who know about and love China. They have dedicated themselves to the cultural exchanges between China and their home country. They not only study Chinese language and culture, but also translate, introduce and spread Chinese culture to their fellowmen. They are the overseas spokesmen for Chinese culture and best tellers of Chinese stories.

French Sinologist Joël Bellassen ——“China plus West Makes a Complete World

Not long ago, Prof. Joël Bellassen, President of European Association of Chinese Teaching and Inspector General in Chinese Language Teaching of France signed a contribution agreement, a program of the Foreigners Writing about China, at the 46th London Book Fair with CTPH (a member of China Publishing Group).

French sinologist Joël Bellassen introducing Chinese books published in France. Photo by Li Yongqun, People's Daily

"The French version of Chinese language textbook I wrote has drawn great interests since it came out in the 1990s. The publishing cooperation plan with China includes publishing other language versions of this textbook. Having dumplings (Jiaozi) at a Chinese restaurant in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, Joël Bellassen told the journalist, "In short, it is the question for Chinese language teaching to choose word-based approach or character-based approach." The Character-based approach theory put forward by Joël Bellassen in 1989 was regarded as the biggest contribution to Teaching Chinese as a Second Language (TCSL).

As one of the first batch of exchange students, Joël Bellassen studied Chinese in Beijing in Nov. 1973. Since then, Chinese characters have been embedded in his blood. After many years, Joël Bellassen concluded his three motivations for Chinese learning. The first one is exploration. In the past, France has long believed that there were cultural differences between France and China, including language and character differences. That is the reason why we need to explore. Joël Bellassen said when he was in China for the first time, China was not that developed like today, so he did not think about the practicability of Chinese. "I learn Chinese because of interest, and I subconsciously inherited Voltaire's idea, the exotic world. I want to know about a totally different country. That's the fun part." The second motivation is tradition. France ranks first in terms of both sinology and Chinese language teaching. In his perspective, there is a common point between France and China. That is both countries attach great importance to language and characters. Therefore, China-French Seminar on Language Policy and Plan is held every two years since 2012. The third motivation is that learning Chinese is a life-long process and it gets more and more interesting.

There is a Chinese saying, "Good wine needs no bush". Actually, it is no longer the case. Joël Bellassen said frankly, due to certain reasons, some unique and beautiful things boasted by China did not spread out. Therefore, it was not well known to the west for a long time.

One reason is that China is not confident in its culture. Joël Bellassen pointed out bluntly that since 1973 when I first came to China, I have been to China for nearly 300 times. There is one thing surprising me every time I come--morning exercise. It is unique in China. For me, it is so interesting and meaningful. However, it is quite common for a Chinese. Some people even believe morning exercise is backward and outdated, because it does not exist in the west, so it is not international. Is it a kind of lacking confidence in culture? French people never consider things with French characteristics backward. For example, French people love eating snails. French pay attention to protecting historical heritages. There are old streets in Paris just like the Hutong in Beijing. Even though the traffic is inconvenient, they are still kept in their original look because of their history.

Culturally speaking, China should be proud of its culture instead of feeling inferior. Westerners who know about Chinese culture are usually amazed by it. "Take China's calligraphy as an example. Calligraphy is an art which is unique to China. We don't have it in the west. It's not a small thing if a country owns a kind of art that other countries do not even have!" Joël Bellassen said admiringly. So, he suggests holding China's calligraphy exhibition in Paris famous art exhibition centers, such as Musée du Louvre, and Grand Palais. Therefore, French who love art can have the opportunity to enjoy Chinese calligraphy.

As a linguist, Joël Bellassen found out that the western culture is based on listening, and that its foundation is Latin words which imply pronunciation. But Chinese is a more vision-based language. It is based on characters which carry meanings. Around the globe, the status of China's poems is unattainable by other countries including France. That's brought by the nature of Chinese characters.

"For human beings, it is lucky to see the presence of China and the west. China plus the west make a complete world." concluded Joël Bellassen.

British Sinologist Michael Dillon—A Scholar with Sincere Love for China

Eighty years ago, the Red Star over China written by the famous American journalist Edgar Snow gave the Western society a glimpse of China. Such historical tradition has been carried forward, as the Foreigners Writing about China program of the China Translation Publishing House (CTPH) released new books including Recollections of the Past by German sinologist Wolfgang Kubin, China-India Relationship (Chinese and English versions) by Indian sinologist B. R. Deepak and A Concise History of China co-edited and co-abridged by British scholar Michael Dillon.

We can’t praise Michael Dillon enough as an author with “prolific” works to his credit. In his email to the journalist, Dillon attached a list that includes his major works. The list is too long to be covered in just one page. What lies behind these Chinese-related works is Dillon’s deep affection for China.

“I hope to enable as many English readers as possible to develop a much better and more precise understanding about Chinese history and culture”. Dillon expressed with myriads of feelings when talking about his newly-published book, A Concise History of China. The journalist also noticed that Dillon’s new book was well acclaimed at the London Book Fair 2017 held not long ago.

It is said that A Concise History of China is an abridged version of the original which runs to 6 volumes. The English version that Dillon is responsible for gives a thorough and in-depth interpretation on Chinese history from a new perspective. “My aspiration is to allow English readers to understand the way Chinese people look at their history and how it influences their attitudes towards their country and the rest of the world”.

Chinese writer Ye Mei holding a book signing of the Arabic version of Song Rod at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2017; Photo by the CTPH

In fact, as early as he was still a primary school student, Dillon has already developed a strong interest in China. In the 1960s, there was a program for learning Chinese launched by the BBC and he has been learning from it. “It was at that time that I made up my mind to study Chinese at university”, Dillon said.

Later, Dillon studied Chinese History and received a BA and an MA from the University of Leeds. After graduation, he has been engaging in teaching and doing research on Chinese language and Chinese history. Currently, Dillon is the Director of the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies at Durham University.

Durham University is one of the top universities in the UK, and its Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies, established in 1999, also stands out in the country in terms of contemporary Chinese studies. Right here, Dillon has dedicated himself to studying China, and has written, translated, and edited a lot of works about China. Besides, he has also published papers relevant to China on many world-famous publications and attends many international academic meetings and seminars about China on a frequent basis. Dillon said that the more contacts he has with China, the deeper his feelings for China are. He loves this ancient country, its history, its culture, and everything about it.

Recently, he has been editing A Biography of Zhou Enlai, which is near completion. “Zhou Enlai valued ‘shishiqiushi(实事求是)’, which, translated into English, is ‘seeking truth from the reality’, which I also try to practice myself”, Dillon said.

Indian Sinologist Dr. B. R. Deepak: The Never-Ending Relations Between China and India

Indian Sinologist Dr. B. R. Deepak met his Chinese wife Wangyao in Peking University, and now their kids, Hans and Jay, are already primary school students. With a smile, Deepak told People's Daily that the relations between him and China are not only in his love and family, but also in his whole upbringing and future development. He is glad to witness and engage in the mutual development between China and India.

"At the beginning when China Publishing Group invited me to write an article, I thought it might be just a lip service." Deepak, in his early 50s, said shyly while smoothing his hair. "I thought I was just too young to write a memoir. But later I knew it was a series of books for about 20 foreign scholars telling their stories between them and China, I decided to sign the contract."

Deepak at New Delhi World Book Fair; Photo by CTPH

His book Sino-Indian Relations consists of 9 chapters, including "Days in Peking University", "The Beginning of Our Marathon of Love", “Returning to Beijing and Witnessing the Rise of China” and “Sino-Indian Cross-cultural Exchanges”, etc. The book covered not only his own study and love, but also his research on the ancient history of Sino-Indian communication and experience of exchanging ideas with various scholars working on Sino-Indian Culture. Prof. Jiang Jingkui, an expert on Hindi language, wrote the preface to this book. He and Deepak hoped that readers from both countries can be inspired by the emotional conflicts between the two countries.

"I grew up in Kuru, a mountainous region in northern India. In this small village, I came to know China by poems and ballads." Deepak clearly remembered his childhood, "My father used to read me Mahabharata and Ramayana that depicted China. I still remember lyrics of a nursery rhyme: Dear Madam, please tell me seriously, which road can I take to go to China?" Deepak said, "This is a rhyme in 1950s and you can see there was a thriving border trade between northern Indian and China before that time."

Having finished his undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Jawharlal Nehru University, Deepak began to study in history department, Peking University in 1991. He said, "At that time, there was no significant difference between Beijing and New Delhi, as well as the GDP of the two countries. However, I later returned to China for many times and I was impressed by the rapid development of China."

For Deepak, the three-year study in Peking University was fruitful, and he met his wife, Wang Yao on the volleyball court. "She was about to graduate when we began our relationship and we spent more time apart than together in the following decade. We have been through a lot of hardship." Speaking of which, Deepak was a bit embarrassed. "At the beginning, her parents had a few complaints as their daughter was married to a foreigner, a guy from South Asia. But when we have got more familiar, we find each other a good company and we share a lot in common in many topics. Now, our family lives in India for most of the time and I have more business trips to China than my wife. In every trip I will visit my parents-in-law and we are interested in talking about topics from Chairman Mao to the Belt and Road Initiative."

The Book Sino-Indian Relations has been released both in Chinese and English and its Hindi version will be finalized soon. Deepak believed that his memoir would have sequels because his relations with China would continue and the path of Sino-Indian cooperation would go further. Pointing at the screen of his computer, He said: "My translation of The Four Books is going to be published. And my book on the Belt and Road Initiative is almost finished. There are so many stories to be told between the two countries."

(Story by Li Yongqun, Huang Peizhao and Zhou Song; People’s Daily, May 25th, 2017, Page 23)


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